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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

L.O.S.T. along the way

Thursday, October 9, 2003

The Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) in Plymouth County is a success, any way you choose to look at it. The new county Law Enforcement Center is the most visible evidence of the success. More than likely, without the LOST to help pay for it, the new building would not be here and we would be talking about how much money the county is paying to house prisoners in other jails.

Taxes and politicians have a unique symbiotic relationship. Most politicians rail against tax increases, but few find ways to lower taxes after they have been raised. Sometimes a tax that was intended for a specific use gets spent on something else.

Last week, the City of Le Mars announced that they will be among the groups and agencies applying for some of the over $500,000 that will be available over the coming year. Bill Cole, city finance director, told city council members this week one application will be for $130,000 to cover funding shortfalls in the cost of the Olson Cultural Events Center and $150,000 for shortfalls in the Streetscape phases that have been completed. The city will also ask for $70,000 for new accounting software.

We can see spending the money on the Streetscape project, which benefits some of the retailers who collect the tax. We have a hard time with the whole idea of LOST as a "blank check" that can be used to fill in the amount and project with little or no accountability.

Why did the projects run so far over budget? Was the council informed of progress and costs during the projects? Did they know that they would need over a quarter million dollars more than was budgeted for these two projects?

Since the council has the ultimate say on what projects receive LOST funding, it is more than likely a foregone conclusion that the city will get this money.

Whether this is right is wrong is immaterial. We are more concerned about the council's lack of information. How can anyone make an informed decision when they don't know all the facts? Perhaps it would be helpful for city staff to give project updates during their meetings. This would help the council and also keep the public informed, which is always a good idea.

Accountability, plus checks and balances gives government a solid foundation. Le Mars is in need of that foundation to go forward with our growth.